Arequipa and Colca Canyon Peru


We arrived in Arequipa Peru by bus from Cusco.  Thankfully this bus ride was uneventful and thanks to the easy to use pharmacy we both had motion meds that keep us nausea free and helped with sleeping.  Our hostel is a close taxi ride from the station and we negotiate breakfast and an early check in.  After cleaning up we opt for the free walking tour of the city at 10, and off we go.

Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru of around 1 million people.  It is nicknamed The White City.  We were provided two explanations for this.  1. Most of the buildings are made of cut volcanic rock and are chalk white, and 2. When the Spanish conquered Peru this area had a huge influx of Spanish settlers, with their white skin the cities population became white.  You can see the Spanish influence throughout the city. The city has great weather, mid 70’s all year and reminded us of San Diego.  The architecture is very much Spanish, with open courtyards incorporated into the living spaces and large walls protecting the exterior, not the prettiest from the street but when you peer in it is very nice.  The city is surrounded by 3 volcanos El Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu.   El Misti  is active and we can see steam at the top most days.  

Our walking tour is small and we move quickly from one side of the city to the next, covering the Plaza de Armas, the major church's, the market and the nice neighborhoods.  In most of the cities in South America, the sidewalks are in pretty bad shape, they are uneven, have lots of holes, dog poop and and times end to dirt.  We have been careful in our navigation when traveling, which can be tricky because they are always very crowded.  In Arequipa, this time Janet was not so lucky.  We were moving quickly down a street and she stepped in a hole that was deep, around 8 inches and fell, twisting her ankle in the process.  We left the tour and eventually found our way to a McDonalds for ice.  Now up to this point we have only seen McDonalds in Lima and Cusco and have avoided them at all costs, but in a county that does not use ice we thought this was our best bet.  For no charge they supplied us with several large glasses on ice.  After a short rest we found a taxi back to our hostel.  Our hosts were great, the best we have had on the trip, they took one look and Janet and promptly told us to use the Coco leafs, the instructions were to chew them into mush and spread around the ankle.  All of our hostels in Peru and Ecuador have provided these leafs, in tea or just raw, the locals chew them for all kinds of aliments, for the travelers they are recommended to prevent altitude sickness.  So we took their advice and spent the balance of the day with Janet’s leg propped, covered in Coco leafs and ice and watched a really bad MSU football game.  That night Frank ordered the famous Peru chicken dinner for us, it is good, cheap and large enough for several meals.  See picture below.  


Sunday was a slow down day. After our banana pancakes, more like crepes, with the cake wrapped around cut fruit and topped with maple glaze, we set out to the Plaza de Armas, aka Plaza of Weapons, which as you've guessed every Spanish town has. We wanted to purchase bus tickets for our next adventure. We noticed many people walking up the steps of the Cathedral and realized Mass  was going to start, so why not, let's go. The Cathedral is gigantic, with the second largest pipe organ in South America and a fantastic wood carved pulpit that has the “devil” contorted and crushed as the foundation. The church does not have the customary cross configuration, just a long rectangle. We walked in and we're herded into a side alcove with temporary chairs and a large tv screen. It turns out that the Archbishop of Peru is performing the Mass. A very stately individual, whom was more easily seen on the TV then he would have been with the naked eye. He had much staff helping with all aspects of the service. It  was a very positive and pleasant experience. As we walked out into the morning sun the Plaza square was filled with people. We then walked to 111 San. Carolina St.,which was the location of the tour shop. We had many questions for “Nancy”, because we would be traveling to 3 cities in one day and crossing the border into Chile. First leg was to take a day bus from A to Tacna, 12 hours, then take a collective to Arica on the Peru border, cross the border, and get to the Chilean bus station for another bus, a night bus, to our final destination San Pedro de Atacama. We will talk more about the actual trip later. 

We also scheduled a local trip to Colca Canyon, Peru’s Grand Canyon lite, for a couple of days later, but at the hostel.  Our original plan was a three day hike into the canyon but with Janet’s ankle we opted for the easy bus ride instead.  

We took a break, and had a super duper Club Sandwich at this local restaurant, a quadruple decker. It was great, as is most the food in Peru. The portions here are so large that we always share meals. It's funny because we are walking and hiking so much, but we are actually eating smaller amounts of  food and feeling satisfied. We wonder how our eating habits may change back in the USA. We do not need doggie bags.   


Monday is our day to walk the city and visit the most acclaimed sites. The first stop is at the Monastery of St. Catalina. This is a city within the city and takes up a full square block. Founded in 1850 by a wealthy Spanish widow, she selected her nuns from wealthy Spanish families in the area, usually the 2nd oldest daughter, and extracted a hefty price for the education and life style. The grounds are spectacular with bath houses, running water, gardens, observation platforms, as well as the customary chapels, saintly oil paintings, and meeting rooms. Unconventionally, these rich nuns could live it up as they were accustomed and bring their servants and certain material effects. Many had separate apartments with private kitchens and servant or teachers quarters. After 300 years, a strict Dominican Mother Superior was assigned by the church to straighten things up, gone went the servants and private homes, in comes dorms and require labor like cooking and emptying their own chamber pots!!  It was not until 1970 that the complex was open to the public. 

 Our second stop is the famous Museum de Santuarios Andinos. Here the frozen Inca Ice maiden known as  “Juanita”is the star attraction. This museum is dedicated to the scientific exploration of the Mt. Ampato volcano which towers above the city and which was the site of Inca sacrifices. The back story is fascinating. Over 500 years ago there was an apparent eruption of the volcano. In order to please the various gods in which the Inca believed, for this event and others, they had selected and cultivated a group of children to be sacrificed if needed. This was apparently a high honor for the family giving up their child, girls and boys, because the child would forever live with the deities. In Juanita’s case she walked over 400 miles from Cuzco accompanied with her group of  holy men, other offerings, and supplies for the afterworld, similar to the Egyptian tombs. Juanita was sacrificed, placed in a fetal position wrapped with special garments, and buried. Her body was only recently discovered when the volcano acted up and melted the ice at the summit. The scientists found her exposed burial location and that of others. Juanita’s mummified remains are on frozen display.  Her hair is in place and face intact. MRI testing in the USA, determined that she suffered a blunt trauma to the back of the head. It is believed she would have imbibed a coca drink as part of the ceremony.         

We also viewed the  oldest church named Iglesias de la Compania. This is a Jesuit order church which is noted for its ornate main facade which integrates  figures of the Peruvian natives.  
Unlike the militant Dominican order of Cuzco and most of Peru, the Jesuits built schools, albeit segregated, next to the church and sought to educate the natives to Christianity as well as the Spanish youth. In my opinion, the Jesuits Appeared more respectful of the cultures they sought to assimilate.   

We finished  the tour day by seeking out a small restaurant, more like a hole in the wall bar, which had good reviews from Trip Advisor. The proprietor, only one we saw, looked like a “Mario Brother” with bushy mustache. He made suggestions in broken English. We went with the flow. We shared trout with Frita, which is like corn grits, and Ceviche, fish marinated in lime juice with cilantro. Of course, we ordered our customary gas water and a beer. You know, in this constant hot climate I am really digging drinking the local brew. I have a renewed pleasure for beer.

We left for our Canyon trip at 8:00 leaving our luggage at the hostel and taking just the basics in our day packs.  Our host are so great, when we tried to pay, they said, no, no you return and pay later.  Our tour is a more traditional vacation type of tour, something that we have avoided but we want to see the canyon and the price was right.  Over the next 4 hours we travel out to a very dry barren countryside.  We see and stop for many native animals.  There are three primary mammals, Llama and Alpaca, both domesticated and bred for sheering like sheep and then the wild Vicuña which are smaller and have fir rather than hair.  See the pictures below of all three.  We stop for a group buffet lunch which was ok but overpriced and finally reach our destination of the town of Chivay, Lonely Planet describes this town at a small, dusty transit hub.  That is a kind description, it is very poor and rather depressing.  Our hostel that we were assured was “good” is the worst we have stayed in, even positive Frank did not shower in the morning, the stall was just to scary, see picture below.  After a short rest we change and head out to a volcanic hot spring, the water was hot, hotter and boiling.  Typical to South America getting there required traversing over rocks and another plank.  In the evening we were offered a traditional dinner with entertainment.  It was fun, bad food but our fellow travelers are great and we have a good time.  Frank even danced a line dance that is similar Greek dancing, he did not have a hankie in his hand but still looked very much like the Greek guy, not Peruvian.

We depart for the canyon the next day at 5:00 am. It is a 2 hour drive to the canyon and we must make 2 stops for more junkie trinket shops.  We arrive at the canyon and the sky is perfect, no clouds, not too hot yet.  Frank and I opt to get away from the crowds and travel down to the far lower level.  Just as we arrive we look over the canyon and see shadows of Condors, then just like that we have Condors over our heads.  It was really spectator, they are huge and just float on the air.  Frank has a great video and I will post it once I have my computer back.  Our 2 hours goes by quickly and although this trip was not what we planned, seeing the Condors was really great.  After being there I am sure I could not have made the 3 day trek, see the pic below of me resting my leg after  just 2 hours of hiking, ouch this was a bad fall!  The rest of the day is bus time with some great conversations with the other passages.  We make it back to our hostel by 5:00 pm, lots of time to get ready to leave Arequipa and Peru.